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Study: Buy Fitness Tracker, Lose Less Weight

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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Wearable fitness trackers, like Fitbits, are less effective for weight loss than standard dieting, according to a new two-year study.

The data reveals that simply adding wearable technology to a workout regimen will not necessarily help fitness or dieting goals. The experiments were conducted on 471 participants aged 18 to 35 and took place at the University of Pittsburgh.

The test subjects weighed on average 210 pounds and they all apparently had aspirations to lose weight. The people were compelled in the first 6 months to follow a specific fitness plan and low-calorie diet, catalog progress in journals, and report on that progress in weekly group sessions.

Initial results show that everyone lost weight with an average of 17 to 19 pounds. But then the hundreds of testees were split up in two different groups. One would be given a fitness tracker to use for the next 18 months, while the others simply recorded their activity into a website–still technology, but considered standard relative to modern dieting mechanisms.

After the full 24-months, the conventional diet plan led to test subjects losing on average 13 pounds. People utilizing the wearable technology only lost on average 8 pounds in total.

“Among young adults with a BMI between 25 and less than 40, the addition of a wearable technology device to a standard behavioral intervention resulted in less weight loss over 24 months,” researchers writing for the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded.

The researchers did not offer much reasoning on why activity monitors may have caused people to gain more weight after the initial testing phase than the traditional dieters, or in other words lose less weight in total.

Perhaps the technology gave people a false sense of empowerment, believing that they were working out and dieting more than they actually were because of a clear, constant view of the nifty devices. On the contrary, perceptible fitness trackers may have demoralized people by reminding them that they should be working out when they are not.

Head researcher John Jakicic of the University of Pittsburgh says while the results are telling, more studies will have to be undertaken in order to figure out the impact of wearable technology and fitness.

“Probably more importantly is for us to try to understand for whom and when these devices are actually very effective,” Jakicic told Ars Technica.

“Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches,” the conclusion continued.

The study did not use Fitbit devices or the Fitbit app, a representative of the company told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “As the leader in the wearables category, we are confident in the positive results users have seen from the Fitbit platform, including our wearable devices, Aria wifi smart scale, and Fitbit app.”

The Fitbit representative added “Fitbit technology is being used in more than 200 clinical research studies at institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern Medicine, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.”

Fitbit also stresses that “any conclusion that these findings apply to the wearable technology category as a whole” is misguided.

Wearable technology has arrived in the professional and amateur sports world. The University of Michigan football signed a contract with Nike allowing for health monitors to potentially be applied to the players’ jerseys and other clothing.

(Editor’s note: This post has been updated)

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